Adventure Hooks Inspired by The Simpsons (Part 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 28, 2012

As a DM I’m always on the lookout for ideas that I can throw into my campaign. It doesn’t matter how seemingly irrelevant the source may be, once I put my gaming mind to work I can often come up with an idea for an encounter or an adventure in just about any source of popular media be it a movie, novel, video game, comic book or television show. The key is to imagine how the situation could be adapted to suit your needs. You’re not often going to find a situation or idea that’s perfectly suited for D&D when you experience it (sorry, the real world just isn’t a fantasy role-playing game) so you need to be creative.

To demonstrate the abundance of ideas in the most obvious places I focused my attention on The Simpsons. I think it’s safe to say that most gamers are fans of the show and that almost every scene and snippet of dialogue from the first few seasons is emblazoned in the minds of gamers in the 35-45 demographic. Yet even with a table of gamers who all possess near perfect recall of the earliest episodes of The Simpsons, you can still base an adventure or encounter around some of the best episodes and the players are unlikely to recognize that it was inspired by The Simpsons. To prove it, here are five examples.

“The Simpsons” Adventure Hooks

The PCs need to win over a group of rogues. Perhaps they are tying to join a thieves’ guild or they are just working undercover. In order to prove their worth the party steals a jewel encrusted head from a sculpture in the local church. The plan is to show the rogues what they’ve accomplished and then return the head. Unfortunately the decapitated sculpture is discovered before the PCs can reveal their spoils to the rogues. A substantial reward is offered for the head’s return. The PCs realize that if they show the rogues the head they’ll likely kill them for it to get the reward. What do the PCs do next?

The PCs find themselves in a town with corrupt politicians during an election. The downtrodden common-folk are looking for a fresh face to run against the corrupt incumbent. One of the PCs is eventually asked to run for office. The good news is that the PCs recently acquire a magical potion that temporarily raises the imbiber’s Charisma during social interactions. If they use the potion it will easily win over the masses and likely result in a landslide victory. The bad news is that there aren’t enough doses to last the entire election campaign and as strangers it’s unlikely the PCs will win without the potion. How does the party proceed?

The heroes are honoured with a feast after their latest victory. Unfortunately one of the delicacies they are served turns out to be toxic and there’s a good chance some or all of them will die by this time tomorrow. The Lord is so distraught when he learns he might have killed the heroes he gives them nearly limitless resources to do whatever they want during the next 24 hours. What does each PC do with his remaining time?

The party is asked to undertake a rescue mission to free an imprisoned ambassador. Rescuing him should be a relatively easy task, but it will take a month to get to the prison and back. One of the PCs has recently fallen in love (with an older woman) and isn’t wild about leaving her as their romance is still budding. The heroes return to discover the lover has died. She bequeathed her entre fortune to the PC but asks he use it to help people. What does he do with his new found wealth?

The PCs find a magical tome in “The Android’s” dungeon. Any PC who possess the item receives increased strength and improved resistances. The benefits only last until the end of the PCs next extended rest. After that the PC must relinquish the tome for a full day before they can gain the benefits again. Any PC who benefits from the tome becomes increasingly paranoid for each day they don’t possess it and believes everyone else wants to keep the tome for themselves. The tome is incredibly valuable and powerful, but it seems cursed. Do the PCs keep it, sell it, destroy or, or worse?

With over 500 episodes and counting, The Simpsons can be a rich sources of inspiration for imaginative DMs. Every episode may not get your creative juices flowing but with so many to choose from you’re bound to find something you can use in your next campaign. Good luck!

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1 Neorevenge February 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm

You are right! I totally forgot about Simpson and Delilah and Old Money (i recognized the other ones tough) totally stealing/borrowing this approach next time i have to come up with an adventure!

2 The Unlucky Paladin February 28, 2012 at 6:46 pm

I hate to say it Derek, but of all the adventure hooks posts you’ve made, I dislike this one the most. dont know why so dont ask.

3 Sunyaku February 29, 2012 at 12:30 am

Hah, not a Simpsons fan Paladin? I could see doing this with any show really… Futurama, American Dad, South Park… but… I suppose the Simpsons have already done everything…

4 Ameron (Derek Myers) February 29, 2012 at 9:16 am

I have to admit that I didn’t try to mask the source material for my hooks too deeply. I figured that since these were inspired by episodes from season 1 and 2 their age alone should make them harder to guess. It’s up to the DM to decide how many Easter Eggs he wants to include as wink-wink to the original episode. Maybe you want to reward players who catch the reference? In that case some familiar elements might be necessary, just don’t make them too obvious.

@The Unlucky Paladin
Oh well, you can’t please everyone all the time. However, with so many other great adventure hook articles in our archives there’s bound to be a few you will like. Just click on the “Adventure Hooks” link under Categories in the left column to see them all.

You’re right, any show will work. I like the 30 minute sitcom or cartoon because they’re usually pretty straight forward. I’ve been “borrowing” ideas from Batman: The Animated Series for my D&D adventures for years.

5 Norcross February 29, 2012 at 3:07 pm

@The Unlucky Paladin
Maybe because they seem so forced?

The Telltale Head – good example of railroading, and will fall apart unless the party does exactly what they are supposed to.

Simpson and Delilah – would be obvious to the party that they are being set up. A smart party would forget about the election and just save the potion for some time when they really need a charisma boost.

One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish – nice role-playing exercise, but not really an adventure. Could provide a rather non-satisfying end-of-campaign session, but if the party survives then the entire thing falls apart. It could work as an adventure hook, though – someone getting poisoned and the party having to find the antidote is a classic, but the entire party being accidentally poisoned and the poisoner knowing where to find the antidote (and being able to provide help in getting it) would be a cool change.

Old Money – so, does the PC suddenly fall in love by DM fiat just in time to be railroaded off on their longest-ever journey so that their life-long love (that they have already forgotten the name of) can die, or do you kill off an NPC that has been developed for months and is a central part of the PC’s life? Might work if an NPC saved by the party feels indebted to the PCs and so leaves them a large fortune in their will or something. Probably wouldn’t be very interesting, however – if the amount isn’t significantly larger than a normal adventure reward, then it’s no big deal. If it has a requirement that it be used to help people, they are likely to just donate it to the local temple (probably minus a “handling fee”) and wonder why the NPC didn’t do that themselves. And of course if they can get away with it then it will probably just go into the adventuring pot (“hey, I bet I could help a lot of people if I use this to buy a new +3 flaming sword!”).

Three Men and a Comic Book – might be an interesting object, but I really don’t like objects that force a change in a PC’s personality. The DM is giving the party a cool toy, and then after they play with it saying, “OK now you guys are going to have to fight over it just because I say so”. It’s a classic trope (One Ring, anyone?) but not one that’s fun to play.

6 Ameron (Derek Myers) February 29, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Is there anything you did like about them? 🙁

But seriously, you’re right. The examples I gave are certainly situational or would require some railroading. But that’s not to say that there still aren’t plenty of ideas in each episode of The Simpsons (or pretty much any other show) that a DM can harvest for use in their own campaign.

For example, the Telltale Head could be a lot more simplistic. The next time the party acquires an item they learn that it’s holds tremendous value as a community symbol. Attempts to sell it or use it will be more troublesome than it’s worth. They can try to return it but depending on how and why they acquired it in the first place this might not be a good option either. Returning it anonymously or destroying it could also come with its own set of problems, especially if they’re ever revealed as the ones who took it in the first place.

7 Matt March 4, 2012 at 8:06 am

And what, exactly, is so wrong with ‘railroading’? Sometimes a DM wants to tell a good story. And any campaign (short, long, or just a one session delve) WILL fall apart if there’s no plot, and the PCs are left with the DM basically saying “OK, what do you want to do today”? There’s a reason why people like novels and movies. They are entertaining. Also, all that ‘freedom’ comes with the huge price of forcing a DM to ad lib EVERYTHING, slowing game play to a crawl, and ruining the experience for the whole group.

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